Daffodils 101

Who doesn’t love daffodils? One of the most beloved harbingers of spring, daffodils are suitable for both in ground and container planting. They will naturalize freely in grassy meadows, woodland gardens, and lawns. The smallest of the species, hybrids and cultivars are good rock garden plants.

Daffodil Planting Tips

Daffodils bloom in late winter and spring except for three species that flower after autumn rains begin. For horticultural purposes, daffodils are split into 13 divisions based on their flower forms. While many, many cultivars have been developed, all are basically grown for their attractive flowers of mostly yellow or white, occasionally green with some cultivars having red, orange, or pink cups.

Most daffodils thrive in full sun or dappled part day shade. Those cultivars with red, orange or pink cups generally retain better color when planted in a little shade to protect them from the afternoon sun.

Plant daffodil bulbs about 3 times their own height in autumn after the ground cools a bit. In some areas this will be as early as September and in warmer climates as late as November. Most tolerate a range of soils but grow best in moderately fertile, well-drained soil that is moist during the growing season. Drainage is the key. Hillsides and raised beds are sometimes the best places. Improve clay with well-rotted compost or other natural soil amendment. I plant them a little deeper in sandy soil and shallower in clay to help keep the bulb healthy.

Few pests bother Daffodils. The bulbs are very unappetizing to most insects and animals, including deer and voles. If you see any leaves with vertical stripes in the leaves dig up the bulb and throw it away. It is probably infected with a virus. Watch surrounding daffodils for signs of the virus as it is spread by contact.

Daffodil Design Tips

Since their blossoms are spectacular but often fleeting, plant early, mid and late varieties to lengthen the season of bloom.

Plant daffodils with companions such as hostas, daylilies and ferns or an evergreen ground cover such as periwinkle or mondo grass. These bed fellows will help hide the foliage until it dies down.

Keep in mind when planting that the blooms tend to face the prevailing direction of the sun. In a border viewed from the north, they will look away from you. Where winters are severe make sure there is at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.

For big impact plant large drifts of bulbs rather than a sprinkling here and there.

Caring for Daffodils After They Bloom

It’s important to deadhead the plants as the flowers fade. Fortunately they make excellent cut flowers. Keep plenty of vases handy to make arrangements to use around your home.

Water late flowering varieties during dry spring weather as the flowers my drop off under dry conditions. Allow the leaves to remain until they yellow. Now is the time to apply low nitrogen, high potash fertilizer after flowering if bulbs are not performing well. Continue watering for 3 weeks or so after they bloom then stop as they enter their summer dormancy. Water only lightly if at all during the summer months.

Watering during the autumn is needed for good growth before freezing weather sets in. If the autumn rains are late, watering will help prepare the bulbs for winter and spring.

The great thing about daffodils is they will produce more bulbs over time. Lift and divide them when the clumps become large and the flowering grows sparse. The best time to move or divide bulbs is when their foliage has withered, signaling the end of active growth. Lift them with a digging fork or a spade, taking care to avoid injuring the bulbs and replant them immediately at the same depth and water well.

Good to Know

Contact with daffodil sap may irritate skin or aggravate skin allergies in some people. If you have sensitive skin wear gloves or be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after picking the blooms.